Saturday, 3 January 2015

The Evolution of Analytical Questions

Analytical problems - the things organisations identify as problems, worry about, and employ people to gather information on and analyse - tend to move over time from being open questions to being closed questions.  Open questions cannot be answered 'yes' or 'no', and begin with words like 'what', 'how', and 'why'.  Closed questions can often be answered 'yes' or 'no' - or with a specific value - and begin with words like 'will', 'can', 'is', 'how many', or 'when'.

Open questions often do not begin with a clear solution concept.  Investigation and analysis of open questions tends to be more intuitive, associative, divergent, and multidisciplinary.  The result of this type of analysis is one or more closed questions that can be answered using deductive, critical, enumerative and algorithmic approaches where subject-matter expertise is valuable.  Time, and more information, transform open questions alchemically into closed questions.

It is through this process that questions like 'what will happen in Iraq in the next six months?', 'where shall we go on holiday next year?' and 'how are the continents formed?' transform into 'will the Kurdistan Regional Government hold an independence referendum in the next six months?', 'when does the rainy season start in Kerala?', and 'how fast is continental drift happening?'

Because of the difficulty of approaching open questions in a defined, process-driven, algorithmic fashion, individuals and organisations are sometimes averse to them and do not devote enough time to ensuring that their answers provide an adequate analytical audit trail for the closed questions on which they supervene.  In the pathological case, this can lead to tunnel vision and concomitant unmitigated existential risk for organisations.

 "You see, what happened to me - what happened to the rest of us - is we started for a good reason, then you're working very hard to accomplish something and it's a pleasure, it's excitement.  And you stop thinking, you know; you just stop."
Richard Feynman, on working at Los Alamos

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